Dive into the gritty story of the Australian pearling industry and its people

28 August 2017

A new exhibition delving into the gritty human story of pearling and revealing insights into one of Australia’s oldest industries will open at the Museum of Tropical Queensland on Saturday 2 September.

Queensland Museum Network Acting Chief Executive Officer and Director Alexander Hayward said the exhibition Lustre: Pearling & Australia, on loan from the Western Australian Museum, dives 20,000 years into Australian history to tell the story of our pearling industry, from the earliest evidence of pearlshell collection by Aboriginal people to the present day.

“This visually stunning exhibition, which traces the evolution of technologies from free-diving and hard-hat diving through to the farming of cultured pearls, is a wonderful addition to the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s program,” Mr Hayward said.

Mr Hayward said the Lustre stories reveal the hardships endured not just by indentured Aboriginal people, but also of Malay and Japanese and other peoples – many of whom gave their lives to the industry.

“Our visitors will enjoy exploring Lustre; from a 2,000-year-old natural pearl found in a Kimberley rock shelter to modern lustrous pearl jewellery, this exhibition traces the fascinating heritage of pearling across the north of Australia, from Shark Bay to the Torres Strait Islands,” he said.

“Museum of Tropical Queensland curators have identified several Queensland Museum collection objects that will go on display at the Museum to enhance the travelling exhibition’s Torres Strait content.”

Western Australian Museum CEO Alec Coles said Lustre is about more than pearls – it explores the beauty, significance and intrigue of pearls and pearlshell across time and cultures, intertwining ancient Aboriginal trade stories with the more recent industry development that transformed the north of Australia.

Lustre also investigates the biology of the pearl oyster and its environment as well as the devastating impact of cyclones on the industry. It tells the unique Australian story of the pearlshell and the pearls that they produce,” Mr Coles said.

Lustre was curated through a partnership between the Western Australian Museum and Nyamba Buru Yawuru, Broome’s Yawuru Aboriginal corporation. It was developed in close consultation with senior Yawuru, Karajarri, Bardi and Jawi, and Mayala elders. This exhibition is supported by Visions of Australia, an Australian Government program aiming to improve access to cultural material for all Australians.

Visit www.mtq.qm.qld.gov.au for more details.

The Museum of Tropical Queensland, part of the Queensland Museum Network, is open from 9.30am - 5pm daily.